TV Guide 26.02.2002
He Gives Love a Good Name

To see Jon Bon Jovi's dressing room on the Los Angeles Set of Ally McBeal is to catch a glimpse of the man beyond the music. The spacious quarters hold little trace of the singer who rocketed to stardom as the leader of the 1980's preeminent pop-metal hair band, Bon Jovi. The closet is free of spandex and leather, the bathroom looks to be devoid of the styling products that helped him tease his way to MTV fame with such hits as "You Give Love A Bad Name" and "Livin' on a Prayer." And despite the fact that the 39 year-old music man has been busy writing and recording songs for the band's eighth studio album, there's no loaded six-string on his back, or even on the premises. This dressing room clearly belongs to an actor.

One thing the place isn't short on, though, is clutter: Clothes are scattered across the furniture, while scripts, scraps of paper, several pairs of sunglasses and a nearly empty pack of Marlboro Lights litter the coffee table. "You can tell I'm living the bachelor life in L.A." cracks the long-married Bon Jovi, who has temporarily relocated from his native New Jersey to shoot the Fox series (Mondays, 9 P.M./ET). Sporting a black ribbed T-shirt, tight blue jeans, and a blinding smile, he makes a quick, endearing attempt to clean up by cramming everything that will fit into a big black duffel bag. "You should see the bachelor pad I'm renting. I've got some green thing in the refrigerator that was probably chicken at one point."

Bon Jovi's unglamorous surroundings - the lone rock-star flourish seems to be the black Dodge Viper parked outside - are intentional. He might be the latest pop star to join Ally (Elton John and Mariah Carey have warbled in the show's Beantown bar this season), but Bon Jovi won't be doing any duets with resident songstress Vonda Shepard during his nine-episode stint. In fact, the only music Bon Jovi will make is with Ally herself (Calista Flockhart) as the flighty lawyer's love interest, contractor Victor Morrison. 

The no-singing stance was established by Bon Jovi early in what has become a high-profile acting career. Since his debut in 1995's feature film "Moonlight and Valentino," Bon Jovi has chosen to segregate the two pursuits. "When I act, I'm acting," he says, settling onto the couch with a bottle of water. "I don't want to blur the lines."

Ally's producers penned the role for Bon Jovi after series creator David E. Kelley toyed with the idea of adding the singer to the cast of the show Boston Public. "In my neighborhood, Jon's what we'd call a stand up guy," says Ally executive producer (and former New Jerseyite) Bill D'Elia. "He's just one of those guys you'd have to go out of your way not to like. He's very charming, and that comes through loud and clear in his scenes with Calista."

But will charm be enough to save Ally? The show, once a pop-culture phenomenon, has taken a dive in the ratings this season following the departure of Robert Downey Jr., who played Ally's last big love. Downey was forced to exit the series following his highly publicized drug and legal problems last spring. Bon Jovi's casting has already generated a much-needed buzz, with no less than the New York times dubbing him Ally's "new great male hope."

"Oh, jeez," says Bon Jovi with a laugh. "I don't need that pressure."

Nevertheless, the pressure is on. Fortunately, Bon Jovi seems to have more than enough energy for the challenge. During an interview, the actor answers the phone, sips bottles of water, and scours his dressing room in search of a match - "I'm dying for a cigarette," he says - with out missing a beat in the conversation. "Jon is hands-down the most focused person I know," says friend Wayne Isham, who has directed more than 15 Bon Jovi music videos since the 1980s. "He doesn't do anything half-assed."

Including his foray into acting. In the early 1990s, burned-out after years of nonstop touring to promote back to back blockbuster albums (Slippery When Wet and New Jersey), Bon Jovi lopped off his famously shaggy lion's mane and threw himself into private acting classes. Displaying a lack of entitlement rare among rock star, he spent more than two years studying his new craft before working up the courage to audition. "I never thought because I was the singer in a rock band, I could [automatically] act in movies," he says, at last finding a match and lighting up a cigarette. "I had no intention of going a set and being looked at as a gag."

He needn't have worried. Critical praise has greeted Bon Jovi's acting efforts, including his performance in "U-571" and "Pay It Forward." The encouraging reviews prompted speculation that Bon Jovi's attention has strayed from music, but the 2000 release of Crush, his band's first album in five years, squashed the rumors and proved that the veteran group - which had weathered a career slump in the early 1990s - could still rock. The CD's anthemic singer "It's My Life" became the band's 14th Top 40 hit, and the group, never a critics' darling, earned its first Grammy nomination outside the music video category. Bon Jovi says he enjoyed "every breath" of the band's second wave of success. Eager to sustain the musical momentum, he'd already begun writing the band's upcoming album (tentatively titled Bounce) with guitarist Richie Sambora, when the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11. The life-long East Coaster had also signed on for Ally, but asked Kelley for a month's delay so that he could perform in several benefits, including VH1's Concert for New York City and the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon. "All I wanted," he says of the September 21 tribute. "was to do a great job for my four minutes and then go home and crawl under the covers with my family." (He's been married to high school sweetheart Dorothea since 1989 and the couple has two children: Stephanie Rose, 8, and Jesse James, 6.)

Though Bon Jovi is enjoying his acting chores on Ally - and won't rule out an additional episode or two - he has no intention of joining the show full time. "I have a day job," he says. He's also developing a new interest: screen writing. 

"There's nothing I haven't ever wanted to do that I haven't tried to do," Bon Jovi explains; with typical self-assurance. "I don't understand coulda, shoulda, woulda."